José Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre pulled only one surprise in his lineup to face Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Friday: Guillermo Ochoa started in goal ahead of Jesús Corona.
Corona had claimed the role throughout the semifinal round of qualifying and the first match of the Hexagonal, a 0-0 draw with Jamaica. The 32-year-old certainly wasn't responsible for dropped points in that match, making four impressive blocks to preserve the clean sheet. It was his fifth clean sheet in a row in World Cup qualifying for El Tri.
But Ochoa reclaimed the role against Honduras. Former Mexico international goalkeeper Félix Fernández thinks the AC Ajaccio man will keep his spot against the United States.
"I think tomorrow Memo Ochoa is going to be the main goalkeeper," Fernández told Goal.com on Monday. "It was a surprise for all of us that Chepo de la Torre decided to put him in goal in the last game because Corona did an excellent job against Jamaica. But Memo Ochoa is doing so well in Ajaccio in France. [Chepo] decided to give the confidence to Memo Ochoa and he did a very good job. He blocked a penalty kick in San Pedro Sula."
The 27-year-old did save Jerry Bengtson's initial spot kick in the 80th minute, but couldn't keep out the rebound as Honduras revved back from two goals down with 15 minutes to play to draw. El Tri, which won every game in the semifinal round of qualifying, only has two points from two games in the Hex.
"Mexico is under pressure for tomorrow's game," Fernández said. "They haven't won yet in the qualifiers. These two ties are not normal in Mexico during this stage. Tomorrow Mexico needs to win."
De la Torre confirmed in a press conference that Ochoa will start and wear the captain's armband against the United States in Estadio Azteca. Normal captain Francisco Javier 'Maza' Rodríguez is suspended. Initial reports out of Mexico suggested that Cruz Azul's Corona, who captained the Mexico team during the 2012 Olympic gold run, might return with the armband.
Longtime Atlante goalkeeper Fernández, who is currently a spokesperson for Sueño MLS and Allstate, thinks the choice is a tossup.
"I have them at the same level," Fernández said, also mentioning the ability of third-choice goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera, who plays for Toluca. "They have kind of different styles. Either Corona or Memo Ochoa are at a very high level right now. It was a surprise that Memo Ochoa was in goal on Friday, but nobody makes a question about it. Nobody doubts Memo Ochoa's level."
The last time the Estados Unidos visited Azteca, during a 1-0 friendly result that marked the first American win on Mexican soil, a goalkeeper wore the captain's armband. Then, of course, it was Tim Howard for the United States. The Everton goalkeeper will miss Tuesday's match with a back injury.
"Tim Howard, for me, he has been one of the top five goalkeepers in the world in the last few years. He's outstanding. I think Tim Howard is a great, great goalkeeper," Fernández said. The former No. 12 – Atlante retired his jersey – thinks the USA, like Mexico, has adequate backup in goal. "Actually Brad Guzan did pretty good also against Costa Rica in Friday's game. Those were very tough conditions for a goalkeeper."
The conditions just may get tougher for Guzan in Azteca. Fernández is predicting a Mexico win. "But of course," he said with a chuckle. "There's no doubt about it."
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